28 Feb 2016

An important Swinfield find

Recently a very interesting discovery was made in the grounds of Hereford Cathedral in the west of England. St John's Walk was built in the early 16th century, it is believed from dendrochronology, to protect the members of the College of the Vicar's Choral from both the weather and the local inhabitants on their way to the services. It has been restored over the centuries and the most recent work concentrated on replacing stonework and damaged paving slabs. One of the stones used for the walkway had an inscription to Gilbertus de Swinfield! It is now in Masons' Yard awaiting conservation. The find was reported in the Hereford Times on 1st February

I have been contacted by Clare Wichbold, the archaeologist of Hereford Cathedral who was responsible for unearthing the slab. She learned of our interest in all those with the surname through an internet search. That led her to the Swinfield Genealogy and DNA Facebook page. Clare informs us that there is a detailed description of Gilbert's tomb and its contents in the Fasti Herefordensis of Francis Tebbs Havergal. It is known that after it was removed, the stone was sitting in the north-east transept until at least 1871 when it was recorded by a visiting antiquarian. Subsequently, it was employed as a paving stone.

Gilbert was a nephew of the more widely-recorded Bishop Richard de Swinfield who held that position at Hereford from 1283-1317, when he died at Bosbury. Richard's extensive register was published in 1909 and includes transcriptions of his letters and the documents produced during his time in charge of that diocese. Derrick Swinfield made an extensive study of his papers in the Cathedral Archives in May 2007 and has drawn up a pedigree of his immediate family.

Richard Swinfield (about 1240-1317) was one of three sons of Stephen who died at Bosbury in 1282. He may have been related to Peter Swynsfeld, one of the founders of Grey Friars Abbey, Leicester, in 1255, from where the body of Richard III was exhumed. Richard's brothers were Stephen of Gravesend and Thomas. The Bishop's tomb was examined and recorded by Dean Merewether.

In addition to Gilbert, Richard de Swinfield had nephews named Robert of Leicester and John
Swinfield. The latter, who was Precentor from 1294, has a grand tomb in the Lady Chapel at Hereford Cathedral constructed after his death in 1311. Running along the archway are 16 pigs or swine, a pun on his surname, each decorated with the blue and gold chevrons taken from the arms of the Dean and Chapter.

Some leather and gold braid from the vestments in which he was buried have survived from Gilbert's tomb in the Cathedral Archives. Photographs of these are reproduced by kind permission of Gordon Taylor. They will form an important part of an exhibition of the St John's Walk finds to be staged in the Cathedral from 12th September to 31st December 2016. Di and I have been invited to visit. It will be a great opportunity for us all to see the tombstone and possessions from over 700 years ago. If only there was surviving DNA too!